Palestine and the Palestinians in the 21st Century

By Rochelle Davis; Mimi Kirk | Go to book overview

6. The Legal Trajectory of the
Palestinian Refugee Issue
From Exclusion to Ambiguity

SUSAN MUSARRAT AKRAM

At the end of 2011, out of a total Palestinian population of about 11.2 million persons, some 7.4 million were refugees or internally displaced.1 The Palestinian people constitute one of the largest and longeststanding unresolved situations of displacement in the world; about one in three refugees worldwide is Palestinian.2 Given the size and protracted nature of this refugee flow, one would imagine that a great deal of energy would be expended on adapting international legal principles to craft a durable solution for this problem. Instead, it is often said that the Palestinian refugee problem is unique, that existing principles are inapplicable, that existing legal instruments do not cover Palestinian refugees, and hence that the problem is intractable.3

Since the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1945, both widespread state practice and a codified body of law have developed that address almost every aspect of refugee and displaced persons’ rights.4 A central premise is that all refugees, without distinction, have certain rights, and that states have concomitant obligations to respect, protect, and implement those rights. The core legal principles applicable in the search for durable solutions for mass refugee flows are: the right to return to one’s home and place of origin in safety; the right to voluntarily choose among available resettlement options; the right to full restitution of property left behind; and the right to compensation for loss or damage to refugee property.5 The right to protection for refugees and stateless persons, and the engagement of the international community in providing the benefits that are lost

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